The U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) kicked off the week-long 2019 SheBelieves Cup Tournament with a 2-2 draw against FIFA 8th-ranked Japan in front of nearly 15,000 fans at Talen Energy Stadium in south suburban Philadelphia.
The outcome must have felt more like a bitter loss for Team USA, given that they put forth more opportunities then Japan in their attacking half during the frigid 95-minute match. The Lady Yanks out-shot Nadeshiko Japan 13-5, with six shots on goal to Japan’s two. Unfortunately, both found the back of the net.
“I feel like the result was disappointing for sure,” said USWNT Head Coach Jill Ellis during the post-game press gathering. “But I thought the performance in both halves, I thought there were some really good things. We made two mistakes in the back that cost us. We left things on the table. But in terms of our team play, what we asked the team to do defensively, work ethic, attacking, in terms of performance, first half to second, we created chances in both halves.”
At the 4th minute of the match, Tobin Health delivered a beautiful pass to Colorado’s Mallory Pugh who was all alone in the middle of the 18-yard box. After one quick touch, Pugh attempted to score with her left foot, but was pushed in the back and could not get a full swing on the ball. Her shot on goal was smothered by Japan’s diving keeper Erina Yamane.
Twenty minutes later, Pugh helped get the U.S on the scoreboard. Her long counter-attacking pass to the right sideline found Tobin Health. The midfielder turned on the jets and went right for the goal. Health usurped her defender just before the end line, then cut the ball the back to an oncoming Megan Rapinoe, who was one of three attackers crossing into the six-yard box. Rapinoe followed through with a right-footed touch and scored, putting the US up 1-0.
In the second half, Head Coach Ellis adjusted the formation from a 4-3-3 to a 5-4-1 in an attempt to subdue Japan’s high pace attack game plan.
Japan responded and tied up the back-and-forth game in the 67th minute when center midfielder Emi Nakajima curled a left-footed shot at the goal after U.S. defender Tierna Davidson attempted to clear the ball from inside the 18-yard box. Instead of a clean clear, the ball went straight to Nakajima, who converted the errant pass into a gorgeous goal.
Christen Press subbed in for Mallory Pugh at the 75th-minute mark. Within seconds she made a first-class cross pass from the right flank towards Alex Morgan, who was cutting in front of the face of the goal. Morgan twisted her shoulders slightly to chest down the pass and the ball bounced past the off-balanced keeper into the back of the net for the striker’s 99th career goal.
“It was a great cross from Christen [Press]” Morgan said after the game. “It came in very quickly and it was right at chest level so I chested it in. It’s not my first chest goal with the National Team. At the end of the day, a goal is a goal. I don’t care what part of the body it comes off of.”
Press earned both praise and the quote of the night from Jill Ellis who described her play as “freaking awesome.” Ellis continued: “Something you look at going into the World Cup is your depth and if you have players who change the game. She’s posing a lot of challenges now in terms of selection, because I thought she was an instant game-changer for us,” Ellis added.
The veteran Press might just give Mallory Pugh a run for her money and could gain the start on Saturday against England.
In stoppage time, another costly turnover led to Japan’s midfielder Yui Hasegawa breaking into the clear with the ball in the left side of the box, Hasegawa gently rolled the ball across the mouth of the goal to an unmarked Yuka Momiki. The forward promptly drilled the ball up and over U.S. keeper Alyssa Naeher.
Team USA had a few late surges before the last whistle, but the final score ended in a 2-2 draw.
The U.S. earned one point and heads west to Nashville to face 1st place England on Saturday. England defeated Brazil 2-1 in their first game.
The Tournament will conclude next Tuesday in Tampa, Florida, where the USWNT host Brazil in Raymond James Stadium, home to the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers.